International Cooperation Minister Bev Oda said sorry Tuesday for charging taxpayers with an expensive hotel stay in London, England last year, but her apology failed to satisfy critics.
"The expenses are unacceptable, should never have been charged to taxpayers," Oda said in the House of Commons in response to a question from interim Liberal leader Bob Rae. "I have repaid the costs associated with [the] changing of hotels and I unreservedly apologize."
Oda's travel expenses caused controversy on Monday when it was revealed that she was originally booked to stay at a hotel where she was attending a conference last June, but had her staff rebook her at the swanky Savoy hotel, where her stay cost her about $665 per night. The total bill for her three-day stay including the room and room service was $1,995. The room charges included an orange juice that cost $16.
Oda also hired a car and driver, at a cost of about $1,000 per day, to bring her to the hotel she was originally supposed to stay at and incurred a cancellation charge for refusing to stay at the Grange St. Paul's hotel.
After the Canadian Press broke the story on Monday, Oda's office said she would personally cover the tab for the difference in cost between the two hotels, the cancellation fee, and the orange juice. In total, she repaid $1,353.81.
"She only did this because she got caught," NDP House leader Nathan Cullen said Tuesday.
Demands for more reimbursement
Opposition MPs are demanding she also reimburse taxpayers for the car rental since it was also associated with her change in hotels. If she had stayed at the original hotel where the conference was, transportation wouldn't have been needed, they say.
Oda didn't answer any further questions in question period. Conservative House leader Peter Van Loan said the minister apologized and repaid the costs associated with changing hotels.
Oda's office says she followed all Treasury Board guidelines when she filed the expenses, and in an interview with a local television station yesterday she said she had nothing to be embarrassed about and she suggested her critics were being "extremist."
Oda did not provide an answer when asked in the interview why she insisted on staying at the Savoy instead of the same hotel as the conference.
Liberal MP Scott Andrews, however, vocalized a theory: "This is about her not being able to get a smoking room on site, " he said.
The Grange St. Paul's is now a non-smoking hotel but last summer it was possible to book a smoking room. The Savoy also has smoking rooms available.
CBC News asked Oda's office again Tuesday for an explanation for the hotel change and was told Oda had "no further comment."
Opposition vows more scrutiny
Some opposition MPs say extravagant spending is a pattern for Oda and that they are going to start putting it under more of a microscope.
In 2006, she used limousines to ferry her to and from the Juno Awards ceremony in Halifax, racking up $5,475 in bills. When the expenses were criticized in the House of Commons, she said she had reimbursed the taxpayer $2,200 of the bill.
A year later, Oda billed taxpayers more than $1,200 for another limousine ride that took her to both a government event and a party.
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair said Oda's apology does not put an end to the controversy.
"The only thing that she's apologizing for is the extra expense for the hotels. We still haven't heard about whether or not she's going to reimburse the $1000 for the limo to get her from one hotel to another," he said, adding this is a "repeat offence" by a minister that shows disregard for taxpayers' money.
Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae said there is no justification for Oda hiring a car and driver during her stay in London, particularly when there are cars available from the embassy, or she could have taken taxis.
"It's ridiculous to think that ministers get themselves in these positions where they think this is what they are entitled to, it's all wrong," he said following question period.
Oda is on the hot seat this week but she is not the highest-spending member of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's cabinet. Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz is the one who racked up the biggest travel and hospitality tab in recent years.
Since March 2010, his expenses for trade missions to places such as Italy, Turkey, Indonesia and Japan have totalled $271,489. Ritz's spokeswoman, Meagan Murdoch, says all his travel helped Canadian agriculture exports hit record levels of $44 billion last year.
Oda had the fifth-highest travel and hospitality expenses over a two-year period, behind Ritz, Flaherty, Defence Minister Peter MacKay and Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird.